Is a DUI a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

Is a DUI a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a dangerous crime that can result in serious consequences. But, is a DUI a felony or a misdemeanor? This question has a complex answer as it depends largely on the circumstances of each case.

Understanding DUI Charges

A DUI can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony:

Misdemeanor DUI: Less sever crimes

  • Jail time up to a year
  • Probation
  • Community service
  • Fines

Felony DUI: More serious crimes

  • Imprisonment for over a year
  • Higher fines
  • Loss of certain civil rights

The DUI classification determines the penalties faced by the defendant.

When is a DUI a Felony?

While the specifics can vary by state, there are generally four situations where a DUI could escalate to a felony charge:

  • It’s the driver’s fourth DUI offense within a 10-year period
  • The driver has a prior felony DUI conviction
  • The DUI caused an accident resulting in serious injuries
  • The DUI resulted in someone’s death

Multiple Prior DUI Convictions

A DUI is classified as a felony on the fourth offense within 10 years.

Prior DUI convictions, even from other states or those reduced to a “wet reckless” charge (reckless driving while under the influence), are considered.

Prior Felony DUI Conviction

If an individual already has a felony DUI conviction on their record, any subsequent DUI arrest will also be charged as a felony, regardless of the time that has passed since the previous conviction.

DUI Resulting in Serious Injuries

If a DUI causes a severe injury accident, it can become a felony. The prosecution must show the driver broke a traffic rule while intoxicated, leading to the accident.

DUI Resulting in Death

If a DUI leads to a death, charges can be vehicular manslaughter or second-degree murder based on the situation. The prosecution must show the driver knew the risks, indicating “implied malice.”

When is a DUI a Misdemeanor?

DUIs are typically misdemeanors for the first three offenses within 10 years without injuries or deaths. Yet, even misdemeanor DUIs can result in jail time, fines, probation, community service, DUI school, and possible license suspension.

Penalties for Felony DUI

Felony DUI penalties are more severe than misdemeanor ones and can include:

  • Several years of imprisonment
  • Hefty fines
  • Long-term probation
  • Mandatory DUI school
  • Substance abuse treatment

Additionally, a felony DUI can result in:

  • Loss of rights, like voting or possessing firearms
  • Reduced employment opportunities.

Defending Against a Felony DUI Charge

Facing a felony DUI charge is daunting, but various defense strategies exist. These may involve challenging prior convictions, the accuracy of BAC tests, or the legality of the traffic stop. However, a skilled DUI attorney is crucial for a successful defense.


A DUI can be a felony or misdemeanor based on the incident, past convictions, and DUI consequences. Facing a DUI charge is serious with potential life-changing effects. If charged, seek legal help promptly to protect your rights.

Contact a DUI Attorney

If charged with a DUI, felony or misdemeanor, seek legal help immediately. An experienced attorney can clarify the charges, advise on defenses, and guide through the legal journey. Always consult a legal expert when in need.